North Korean authorities have ordered North Korean workers and supervisors sent to work in foreign countries to earn hard currency for Pyongyang to comply with new guidelines to prevent reporting of human rights abuse in workplaces, according to a human rights worker.
Authorities in the isolated country recently issued an updated special action guide after the United Nations passed a resolution on North Korean human rights at the end of last year.
North Korea’s security department already has sent the new guidelines to workers in many countries, said Hee Yoon Do, representative of the Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees (CHNK), who received the information from sources inside North Korea.
“This action guide for workers abroad was written based on a resolution on North Korean human rights adopted by the U.N. General Assembly,” he told RFA’s Korean Service. “We can see that the guidelines were issued in response to the U.N.’s move about North Koreans who work abroad in the future.”
“North Korean authorities have conveyed the detailed behavior through these guidelines [and] warned of severe punitive action if the action guide is exposed to the outside,” Do said.
The action guide that authorities issued orders North Koreans working abroad to prevent foreigners from filming their workplaces and their work methods to document human rights abuses, Do said.
The action guide includes instructions as to what the workers should do if such a situation arises.
“Particularly, when a foreign reporter or human rights activists tries to take a picture or film you, take the camera, camcorder or cell phone from them and smash it,” the document said, according to Do.
“They [North Korean workers] must physically smash them, but also they must pull out internal memory cards such as SD cards and then return the broken cameras or camcorders to their owners,” he said.
Respond with violence
The action guide also instructs workers not to hesitate to respond with violence and to gang up on those trying to video or photograph them, he said.
“The action guide even includes a series of details: Do not kill, but inflict a blow or fracture until the person’s body is physically damaged,” Do said.
If a person apologizes while a North Korean is beating him, the North Korean must record his words with a video camera or cellphone and give the recording to the supervisor or manager of the work unit to which they belong, Do said.
“If North Korean workers block activities by preventing or beating a South Korean who is reporter or human rights activist, they will be evaluated according to their actions,” he said. “But if they don’t [follow the guidelines] and pictures or videos appear on the Internet or TV, they’ll be punished.”
Do did not indicate the types of punishments the workers would receive.
North Korea has sent tens of thousands its citizens abroad to work in various factories since the 1980s to raise money for its regime, according to a recent report by Arirang News, an international English-language network based in Seoul.
Many of them endure long hours of physically grueling labor sometimes under the watchful eyes of North Korean minders in Russian logging camps, Chinese factories or Middle Eastern construction sites, where they often tolerate poor work conditions and inhumane treatment. Some workers lack heat and water in sparse and crowded sleeping facilities.
North Korean authorities have dismissed such reports of exploitation as false.
Many North Koreans have soured on the idea of work assignments abroad amid reports of exploitation by authorities who do not always pay them the money they are owed, according to sources inside the country.
Reported by Jae Wan Noh of RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.